[MUSIC, Title: "Attention—How to Get It, and Why You Want to Sometimes Lose It"] [David] Many times—but not always— we want our students to be in focus mode: paying attention to us, to each other, or to whatever they're supposed to be working on. Interestingly, within the focused mode, there are two ways that students focus. The first way is to use what's called "top-down processing." And the second involves "bottom-up processing." [MUSIC, Interlude: "Top-Down Attention"] [Barb] Top-down attention, is attention that happens because students are exerting willpower. You're probably not surprised to learn that willpower comes, at least partly, from our attentional octopus towards the front of the brain. When students are exerting willpower, they are consciously making themselves focus on you, or on whatever they're trying to learn. As you might imagine, when teaching and learning sessions first start, either in person or online, it's easier for students to will themselves to pay attention. Their working memories are busily trying to form mental models. But as time goes by, that pinball on the pinball table is popping around, and, well, it can be easy for it to fall into the diffuse mode. That's when the student begins to mind-wander. [MUSIC, Interlude: "Bottom-Up Attention"] [Terry] There's a way you can help your students so their attention isn't as prone to mind-wandering—they won't need as much willpower to keep focused. This can be done by kicking into gear their bottom-up attentional mechanisms. Bottom-up attention occurs, not because a student uses willpower, but because they can't help but pay attention, whether they like it or not! Imagine, for example, that you heard a tremendous crashing sound in the next room [SOUND] Like that, but even louder. And imagine it was in the room right next to you. You could not help but look in the direction of the sound. That's bottom-up attention. It draws your attention whether you want to or not. The noise involves neural input that is breaking through all the usual sensory filtering, so that you become aware of it despite your best conscious efforts to continue attending and focusing on something else. [Barb] You can use students' bottom-up attention to help keep their attention on the screen—without them having to exert so much willpower to do that. Just like sound, judicious use of unexpected MOTION automatically draws focused attention. In fact, this is one of the great advantages of teaching online. You can use all sorts of unexpected imagery and sound that really attracts attention! Looming motion really draws attention. Why? Because from an evolutionary perspective, things that suddenly loomed closer, could kill you. Don't worry—it won't make your students nervous to have you appear to move closer on the screen. But it will help draw and keep their attention, without students having to exert willpower. Basically, people's eyes and attention can't help but wander when a scene remains pretty much the same and is thus largely predictable. Face it, you staying in one spot on a screen, even if you wave your hands, is pretty predictable. [David] Although motion can help, remember, everything doesn't need motion! Good online teaching is an art, not an algorithm! Too much motion can be distracting, and, more than that, it can kind of make people feel seasick. Incidentally, this is also why it's important to keep yourself from nervously rocking back and forth in your chair or on your feet. Which, I must confess, I've been guilty of from time to time. But in our experience, a little unexpected motion at appropriate points in your online teaching can really help reduce students' mental fatigue and mind-wandering. If you're creating videos that feature you as a picture-in-picture, it can be worth your time to rearrange your slides to allow your camera feed to be pretty big. But also to occasionally shift where your picture is located on the slide. Just don't do it too much, or again, it can start to be distracting. You're a teacher, not a screensaver. Now, picture-in-picture isn't always best—learners have to split their attention between you and what you're talking about. Plus you'll also find that it can be easier to create videos where you DON'T appear on screen— you can split the content up into smaller little chunks, since you don't have to worry about having a continuous video. And of course, if what you're talking about gets really complex, you'll want to take yourself completely off-screen. But appearing in your videos regularly is still important to help your students feel connected to YOU as a teacher. [MUSIC, Interlude: "The Benefits of Diffuse Mode Breaks"] [Barb] Keep in mind that although you want to get students' attention, students also benefit from brief mental breaks. In fact, one benefit of sporadic online breakout sessions is that they allow for tiny, diffuse mode breaks as students pause their focus on you and wait for the breakout sessions to initiate. And often, the discussion in breakout sessions—or active sessions in a more traditional classroom—is more relaxed. These more diffuse breaks can allow students to have a quick neural reset, so they can return to your teaching with a fresher perspective. This is one of the benefits of synchronous teaching with breakout sessions. However, a benefit of asynchronous teaching—that is, watching a video— is that if a student might catch themselves mind-wandering, they can stop the video and go back to where they left off. When you ask students to brainstorm, oddly enough, that's also a good time to ask them to turn OFF their cameras. Why? Because with no eyes and no person's gaze to catch their attention, students can more easily fall into the diffuse mode. Exactly the mode they need to be in for random, brainstorming-types of activities. Also keep in mind that activities in class where students talk to one another can provide for quick moments of diffuse mode relaxed thinking. Even just during that brief time when students are turning to one another— or online when they're waiting for their breakout room to load. This helps prevent the monotony of 50 minutes of straight instruction. It serves sort of like tiny breaks to allow them the opportunity to interact and brainstorm. [Barb] I'm Barb Oakley. [David] I'm David Joyner. [Terry] I'm Terry Sejnowski. [All] Learn it, link it, let's do it!